There’s nothing I like better than spending a Saturday afternoon in the sunshine mooching around in vintage and charity shops. One of the best, and most picturesque, places to do this is the lovely town of Frome. This place is a hidden gem, filled with 17th and 18th Century architecture, in the heart of Somerset and I came by it in rather a roundabout way when I was invited to a writer’s day in the town.
Image by kind permission of Barry Samuels at www.beenthere-donethat.org.uk
Frome has a real artistic vibe to it and there is always something going on whether it is a farmer’s market, an arts and crafts fair, a vintage fashion fair or live music. The Cheese & Grain, just off the car park at the bottom of the town, has a wide range of events with markets, fairs and gigs happening every week, so always check their website before you go. Also, look out for The Frome Independent, an artisan market that happens every first Sunday of the month between March and December. A huge collection of independent retailers, artists and crafters take over the entire town centre selling everything from flea market bargains to delicious home-made food to one-off designer made clothing and homewares.
When we arrived it was nearing lunchtime and the farmer’s market was winding down, so we headed straight to a cafe at the bottom of St Catherine’s, the main area for vintage and craft boutiques. There are a large number of cafes around to take your pick from, so you’ll never be gasping for a cup of tea, and a lot of them focus on home-made, organic produce. Once fully fuelled, we headed up the cobbled hill (it can be rather steep at times!) and visited a variety of charity shops, mainly purchasing secondhand books, which I have a great love for, particularly old classics. Then it was on to the vintage shops!
There are nearing on ten vintage clothing shops in Frome with several other vintage homeware and antique shops, all in or around Catherine Hill, but my favourites have to be:
Poot Emporium is an odd little shop selling vintage, upcycled and independent designer clothing and weird and wonderful nic nacs, hence the name ’emporium’. You’re bound to find something to buy, even if you didn’t know you needed it! I bought this to-die-for 1950s red crocodile skin effect leather bag. It was £28, which is more than I would normally spend on a bag like this, but it is in almost perfect condition and such an amazing colour red that I couldn’t resist. My mum bought a beautiful salmon pink wool coat by the Eastex brand which I originally had my eye on but it was too big for me. Luckily it fitted her perfectly and, at £15, it was a complete steal.
Donna May Vintage (previously Make & Mend Vintage) sells unbelievably gorgeous vintage dresses from the Victorian era right through to the 1970s with a specialty in glamorous evening wear. Think full-length, slinky numbers that could only be worn by society members at cocktail parties! For the men there is a wide range of Harris tweed jackets, an array of striped shirts and as many trousers as you may want to carry, each and every one a decent brand or designer. The shop itself has a real sense of the past all the way through it with well-loved suitcases dotted here and there, ageing furniture and old-fashioned shop fittings that wouldn’t look out of place in a drapers or Gentleman’s tailors.
Nova is another vintage shop that specialises in both men and women’s clothing. The men’s is quite similar to Donna May Vintage but the women’s wear is much more daywear orientated. However, for the men there is a fantastic selection of fedoras, trilbies and boaters and every type of accessory a well-dressed man would want, even the odd sporran! For the women my favourite area is at the back of the shop where there are fur coats galore and vintage wedding dresses to fawn over from the 1930s up to the 1970s. If I was getting married again this is one of the first places I would head for a dress.
On the corner where Catherine Hill and Paul Street converge is Bonbon Chic which is worth a look in. It’s not vintage but it sells a huge variety of scarves, perfect for accessorising any outfit, plus cloche style hats, cute handbags and a wide range of jewellery.
Just after Bonbon Chic there are two sewing shops directly opposite each other, Millie Moon Haberdashery which is very much in the shabby chic/Cath Kidston style and Stitches, a much more traditional sewing shop where you’ll see women on their sewing machines practising their skills right there in the window. Both are recommended if, like me, you are into making your own clothes, or making alterations to those vintage purchases, as between them they offer just about everything you would need.
Saving the best for last, at the very top of Catherine Street is the wonderful Deadly is the Female. They sell an amazing array of 40s and 50s inspired clothing that focuses very much on the feminity and glamour of Hollywood’s Femme Fatales. This was the second time I had visited their shop and, as always, Claudia and her mum were incredibly welcoming to everyone who walked through the door and so patient when I wanted to try just about everything on! They even encouraged my mum, who has a really body image problem despite the fact that she looks incredible for her age, into a reproduction Marilyn Monroe wiggle dress. She looked absolutely stunning but, unfortunately, couldn’t be persuaded to buy it.
I have been coveting Stop Staring’s green Timeless dress on many a reproduction online shop and the last time I visited Deadly is the Female they had sold out of my size. This time I just had to check and, low and behold, they had my size! Before trying it on I actually said to my mum that I would cry if it fitted me as I really couldn’t afford to buy it (£180!) and, of course, it fit me like a glove. Although I love to spend my hard earned cash on beautiful clothes, I am very sensible when it come to money and if I don’t have it in the bank then I can’t spend it. But, thanks to Claudia, I left with a smile on my face when she told me that they were getting new stock in a few months of several different colours. Trust me, I’ve already started saving!
In the end I just went for the Bettie Page Manhattan skirt above which is a swing skirt made from a heavy knit in a pattern which reminds you of the New York skyline. It is fully lined and hangs with a really flattering shape. It goes with just about anything and I know I’ll be able to wear it over and over again.
Once we said goodbye to the girls (and Gomez the dog!) at Deadly we headed back down the hill and through the main town centre, popping into some of the charity shops we missed on the way up. By the time we reached the car we were worn out but had a thoroughly enjoyable day. I would highly recommend checking out the delights Frome for yourself, particularly when the markets are in full swing.